Fiction In My Backyard

When I write an urban fantasy book, I have to pick a setting from our world. Several factors go into that decision: climate, geography, a place I find interesting. I have yet to write a book set in my own city (though I’m considering it for the fire book), but even though the locations I’ve written about so far have been exciting new places to me, they’re in some people’s own backyards.

I recently met a woman on Twitter from Grays Harbor, WA, the setting for Elemental Magic. She was intrigued with the book mainly for its setting, and has even been blogging about it on a local community blog. (I find the Twilight/Forks comparison quite flattering.) As for some of the details I got wrong about the city, I blame Google Maps. 😉

Even though I have yet to write a story set in my own backyard, I do get excited when I find a book taking place in it. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many for the South Bay in California. San Francisco seems to be the go-to city. Close, but not close enough for me to feel a connection. I did read one book that took place in Fremont, which I was super excited about since I did grad school there, but the characters never left the office building the entire book. :-/

What is it about stories set in our neighborhoods that get us excited? Is it the chance to see if the author gets the details right? Is it the feeling that hey, someone’s paying attention to our little corner of the world? Or is it the sense that whatever supernatural story is playing out on the pages, we’re a part of it, simply by association?

Have you read books set in your town or city? How did you feel about them? I love hearing from you!

If you missed it yesterday, be sure to stop by Rebecca Enzor’s blog for the Earth Tones My Little Pony!

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I hope you enjoyed your visit and come back for more!  You can subscribe using RSS, Twitter, or Facebook.  And if you want to ensure you don’t miss any new releases, you can sign up for the newsletter!

Believe It Or Not

It’s time for Friday Fancies and I’ve been thinking about excitement vs. believability.  Every work of fiction demands at least some degree of willing suspension of disbelief.  The more fantastical the story, the more suspension required.  There is a line, however, and if the creator of the plot crosses it, he or she could shatter that bubble the audience has been happily maintaining.

Where is that line?  I’m sure it varies depending on the genre and story, and of course everyone has their own personal preferences.  The example I’m going to use is from the series premiere of Terra Nova, a television show about humans traveling from a dying future earth to prehistoric times in order to start over.  There are quite a few things the audience is going to have to take the story creators’ word on.  Hey, these people are living with dinosaurs; how awesome is that?

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Warning, I’m going to talk in detail about one of the last scenes in the episode, though I won’t be giving any plot arcs away.

In this episode, one of the things that happens is a group of teenagers sneak outside the perimeter to have some fun.  They get stranded and attacked by slashers–mean dinosaurs with tails that could slice you in half.  They manage to take cover in a rover, but the power cell is dead and they still can’t escape.  One of the girls has a panic attack and decides to make a run for it, despite her friends trying to hold her back.  And she runs right into a couple slashers.  *Cue commercial*

Think the girl dies?  Commercial ends and the rescue convoy finds her staggering through the jungle bleeding to death.  That’s where they lose me.  Sure, a girl getting ripped up by dinosaurs is exciting.  It gets the heart pumping, the pulse racing.  You’re wondering whether she’s going to make it or not.  Here’s the thing–she shouldn’t have.  No predator is ever going to let their wounded prey simply limp away into the night.  In Jurassic Park, the characters were often saved by a bigger and badder predator coming in and eating the attacking dinosaur, but that’s not what happened here.

I’m not saying I wanted the girl to die.  I probably wouldn’t want to watch the show if that were the case.  But having her run off into the night to get slashed up a bit for excitement’s sake and then easily escape death by digestion feels like it crosses that line of believability.  At least for me.

So I pose the question to you guys: Where do you draw the line?  What kinds of things pull you out of the story?  What kinds of things are you willing to forgive?  If you watched the episode, did this bother you, or did you gloss over it, engrossed in the excitement?  I love hearing from you!

I’ve also got a mash-up of some very thoughtful posts for you.

Have I mentioned I can be a total douchebag?” by Natalie Hartford–Natalie talks about how competitive attitudes can ruin good ole fun.

Please Don’t Close Your Eyes, Because I Can’t See Your Soul” by Diana Murdock–The eyes are the window to the soul that cannot lie, so what does that mean for interaction on social media?

Why Busy People Need Poetry” by Alina Sayre–Btw, Alina’s one of my besties and she’s new to the blogosphere, so hop on over and wish her a warm welcome.  🙂

Are You Hungry Enough?” by Marcia Richards–Marcia talks about what happens to dreams put on the shelf.

Wander Off Trail” by Kate MacNicol–You never know what you might find.  Kate found alien babies in the woods.

Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday – Studying the Behaviors of the Criminally Inclined” by Tiffany A. White–Tiffany reviews one of my favorite TV shows: Criminal Minds.  If you don’t already watch it, she’ll tell you all the reasons why you should.

Bad Boys or Boy Scouts?

What type of men do women fantasize about?  Bad boys usually top the list.  The dark, brooding types have an air of mystery about them that we just have to unlock.  Plus they’re dangerous.  There is something alluring about risk, and in fiction it’s all the better because there are no consequences for the reader.  We can fall in love with those abrasive, sexy guys in the safety of those pages (or film) and return to life as normal when we close the book, having vicariously experienced the thrill of adventure.  The Bad Boy archetype is certainly more prominent in fiction than his counterpart, the Boy Scout.

Bones (Night Huntress series)

Bones is the dark, sexy vampire with his own agenda and a devilish approach to sex.  As with many bad boys, there’s something appealing about him: hints of sweetness underneath that thick layer of bad ass.  Would you want a real relationship with him?  Probably not, unless you fancied pain.  But you’re the reader, which makes jumping into bed with him safe and temporarily satisfying.

Damon Salvatore (Vampire Diaries)

Dark, sometimes evil, and witty vampire with piercing eyes.  Oh yeah, he’s delicious.  But then he can go and surprise us with moments of heroism, which makes us believe there is good in him, if only the right girl can draw it out.

Not to list only vampire bad boys (though that does seem to be the best or most popular form this archetype takes), let’s also mention:

Captain Mal Reynolds (Firefly)

This captain’s line of work is anything but legit most of the time, and he’s not afraid to throw a punch or fire off a few rounds.  Yet he also has a sense of nobility and honor.  Being an ex-soldier, he knows loyalty and nobody messes with his crew.  He may have unscrupulous business practices, but he has limits on what he will and will not do.  Dangerous, yet honorable.  Now that’s a combination.

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The Boy Scout, though apparently outnumbered, is not extinct in fiction.  There’s also something alluring in undiluted devotion and sweet affection.  The knight in shining armor persona has his place.  In a world of darkness and betrayal, there is something safe and fulfilling in the ever faithful and dependable Boy Scout, the ideal man a woman can spend her whole life looking for in the real world and never find.  Divorce rates are high, marriages are not expected to last a lifetime, and more and more children emerge from broken homes.  Yes, we secretly love danger, but we also long for the stability we believe we’ll never have.

Marcus O’Malley (Dee Henderson’s The O’Malley series)

Really, all the men in Dee Henderson’s books are Boy Scouts.  Marcus is a US marshal dedicating his life to protecting high profile figures.  He’s loyal to his family and those he cares about, to the point that when he gets a call from any of his siblings, he will drop what he’s doing and rush over.  How many women would love if their husbands  put them above their work?

Leopold (Kate and Leopold)

Time traveling romances make use of the good boy persona more easily as honor and decorum is expected of men from the past.  Leopold is a man of 1870, and though he might be considered a bit of a rogue in his time since he refuses to conform and marry a rich American, by today’s standards he is definitely a gentleman.  He treats Kate with respect, and when he attempts to film a commercial for her, he refuses to compromise his standards by promoting a product he finds disgusting.  Kate obviously falls for this chivalry, knowing she’ll never find equal in her own era.

Seeley Booth (Bones)

Here is a fine sample of a Boy Scout who is both tough and sexy.  Booth follows the rules, doesn’t compromise his values, and has a sense of honor.  He’d never cheat on you, never put his work above his loved ones, and never break your heart (intentionally).  He is dependable.

So what about you? Do you prefer the Bad Boys or the Boy Scouts?  Or do you find both meet a deep need at various times in your life?  Who’s your favorite Bad Boy or Boy Scout character?

Update from the Muse: Lost in Space

I think perhaps my muse was kidnapped after all, and last night’s dream experience was some sort of telepathic SOS.  It wasn’t smurfs, it was…marauding, intergalactic slave traders? 0_o  Uh, sorry muse, I think you’ll have to find your own way home.

This dream was a bit confusing for me.  It committed the storytelling sin of having too many characters.  Not only that, but I wasn’t even a character in this escapade.  I was a disembodied ghost floating around watching everything unfold.  I guess I was the omnipotent narrator.

So the dream: A 6-yr-old boy is kidnapped by above-mentioned slave traders.  Even though they were on a regular ship, there was some weird sci-fi feel to it.  Poor kid is crying for his big sister, who is stuck on shore, to save him.  Teary moment as they sail away into the dark fog, completely separated.

And now they’re sailing in what I can only compare to Planet Earth’s deep underwater caves—except they’re not underwater, but they are surrounded by walls of rock.  It’s dark, and frankly just creepy.  It feels like a journey to an alien planet.  (Because where else would you take 6-yr-olds for slave labor?)

There’s a lot of sniveling and crying going on, and lots of harsh treatment by the scumbag pirates.

Now we’re back with the big sister (big as in 12 or 13).  She’s mounting a rescue, venturing deep into this unknown territory to find her brother (aw, how sweet).  Will she save him?  Will they make it home?  Wait, suddenly we’re 11 years into the future?  What happened?  You mean I *slept* through the best part of the story?  My muse says, “sorry, had to disconnect so the pirates wouldn’t catch me communicating with you.”  Um, right, hush-hush.

So now it’s 11 years later, and there are two boys (huh?).  They are teenagers, and have finally escaped whatever torment they’ve endured and made it all the way home to what greatly resembles a Star Trek space ship.  And if that’s not enough to confuse you, who is it making a guest appearance as these two heroic boys?  Zachery Ty Bryan and Johnathan Taylor Thomas from their Home Improvement days.  (whispers: Muse, did the pirates drug you?)

The two sit down and tell their miraculous story (which I missed, humph) to the commanders of the space ship.  (Is that Captain Picard?  It’s hard to tell because being a ghost gives everything a slight haze.)  It’s a happy ending for everybody—wait, what about the little boy and his sister?  What happened to them?  I have no idea.  Is he still awaiting rescue?  Does this mean my muse is a 6-yr-old boy?  I suppose that could explain my tendency to beat characters into bloody pulps…

I don’t know where my muse is, but it sounds like she (or he) is experiencing much more excitement than I am.  Maybe she’ll have plenty of stories to tell when she gets back.

Someone call CPS–Character Protective Services

When I was in high school and working on my official first epic fantasy novel, I would go over to my friend’s house, another writer, and we would talk shop all day long.  Her mom used to give us weird looks whenever she walked by, saying if only we could hear ourselves the way others (non-writers) do.  It was probably due to our genre, but we beat up and injured our characters mercilessly.

“I had him take an arrow in the shoulder.  The left one, mind you.  He still needs the use of his sword arm.”

“Yeah, that’s important.  Should probably avoid leg injuries if we want them to get up and continue fighting.  A knife to the gut works.”

Why do we abuse our characters so?  Is it a cathartic experience?  Are we taking some of our own emotional or psychological pain and giving it a physical outlet?  Is it just another expression of overcoming immense odds?  Do we kill characters we love so that we may experience grief in a safe environment?  Does it help us root for the protagonist?  What are your thoughts?

(Hm, but if pieces of ourselves get put in our characters, does that make us sadists or masochists?)

And, if you want to share, what’s the worst you’ve done to a character?  Physically: kidnapped and tortured almost to the point of death might be the winner for me.  Psychologically: I sent a protag with severe arachnophobia to hunt down a nest of giant spiders.  (Yeah, that was definitely masochistic on my part.  Call it attempted therapy.)

Cursed Cliffhangers

We all know the purpose of cliffhangers.  Television shows run for a season, and producers want to ensure that their viewers return in the Fall.  The best way to do that, since they obviously don’t have much faith in fans’ loyalty if the show itself is great, is a cliffhanger, usually centered on the likely death of a beloved character.  “Oh no!  They can’t kill him off!”

It’s bad enough waiting around for three months to see what happens.  (Don’t get me started on the idiots who plan cliffhangers for premiere seasons and then cancel the show.)  I’m starting to see more and more cliffhangers in book series!  How cruel must authors/publishers be?  Books in the same series are lucky to come out twice a year.  Once a year is more likely, and what about those series that authors are in the process of writing?  Come on guys, you can’t foresee the future; what if you never write the ending?

Here’s my other thing: television shows are more easily remembered.  They run for 12-24 episodes over several months.  I read a book in 2-3 days.  I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter how amazing the story is; I have a gazillion other books to read, and by the time the sequel comes out, I’ve forgotten not only to look for it, but what happened in book 1!  Seriously, I started making a list of authors to periodically Google in case they come out with another book when I’m not looking.  Because let’s face it, television previews are all over–well television–the web, Facebook, YouTube, etc.  Book release announcements?  Not as easy to hear about unless you Follow every author you like.

Ranting aside, I’m all for serial books.  However, I think that each book should have a self-contained plot.  Even if there is an overarching megaplot with the big baddie that the protag won’t all-out battle until the end (hm, much like the levels in a video game?), there should still be some episodic structure to the book.  There are a handful of Young Adult series out that have become so popular (either the authors have gotten lazy or they feel they don’t have to work as hard to keep their readers) that by book 3-4, they become a series of events, a to-do list in this epic journey the characters are on.  There’s blood, sweat, and tears, but no triumph, no growth.

 

There are some great series out there that follow a character or group of characters through various life changes, but each book is complete in its conflict and resolution.  Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series is excellent.  Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series is good (consequences from one book may spill over into another, but the plots are still contained and resolved).  I’d like to add Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, but alas, Book 11 (she made it so far) ended with a cliffhanger–granted, a character cliffhanger, not plot, but still, me annoyed.

I believe I’ve said my piece.  What about you guys?  Do you feel as strongly about cliffhangers as I do?  Do you love them?  Do you think they have a valid purpose in books?  Do they alienate or ensnare readers?

Those who can’t do, write–10 Things My Characters Do Better Than Me

I suppose this is going to be a bit self-deprecating, but it seemed like an interesting idea at the time.  These are in no particular order.

10 Things My Characters Do Better Than Me

1. Bake–One character made cherry almond torte for her date.  When I make cookies, they have to be eaten with a spoon.  (The incident that inspired this list.)

2. Math–Another character uses algorithms to track current patterns and find sunken ships.  I almost killed myself by miscalculating how much insulin to give myself for a meal.

3. Science–Heck, four characters in my latest book are oceanographers.  If it isn’t obvious yet, I’m an English-minded person.

4. Date–All of my protagonists (with the exception of one) get their guy in the end.  I am single (though now it’s by choice).

5. Garden–The character in book 3 of my new series is an earth elemental, which means she makes all things grow beautiful and healthy.  My mom had to buy me a “forever blossom” so I could maintain a flower in my room.  (I’ll give you a hint: it’s a fake flower attached to a lucky bamboo, the one plant I’ve managed not to kill.)

6. Exercise–When danger comes, you can bet my female heroines are capable of kicking butt, or at least running away.  I have a bad arch that gives in if I try to run; I’d be dead meat.

7. Blood–No adventure would be complete without action: sword/gun fights, explosions, car chases, and of course the various scrapes and contusions that come with it.  I get queasy at the sight of other people’s real blood.  (I know, for a diabetic who pricks her finger five times a day, that seems ironic, huh?)

8. Magic–Okay, so that one’s kind of obvious: many of my characters are supernatural and I’m not, but I’m running out of things to list.

9. Conflict–Someone pissing them off?  The arrogant, sleazy SOB getting in their face?  My strong female characters don’t take crap from no one.  Me…well, I do the deer caught in the headlights thing really well and the meanies usually go away after that.

10. The Outdoors–Whether it’s hiking, camping, or even living in the mountains, so far none of my characters have an aversion to nature.  I, on the other hand, can’t handle the creepy crawlies.  At all.

In my defense, there are a few things I do better than some of my characters, and it’s not like my characters are perfect, flawless people.  They’ve got issues; some they share with me, as a little bit of me gets put into every protagonist, but I get to live a little vicariously through my characters, so sometimes they get to do things I could never (or refuse to) do.

What do your characters do that you wish you could?

The importance of feedback–and how you take it

 

Writing has been called a solitary pursuit, and while this is mostly true, every writer needs a support system of critique and feedback.  Moms are usually great at support, but not so much on objective comments.  This is where a writing group comes in.  Not only do you get objective feedback (as objective as anyone can be, because let’s face it, writing and reading is a subjective business), but you also get a variety of perspectives.  Everyone interprets things differently based on their schema, the filter with which they see the world that is formed by their background and experiences.  It’s good to know beforehand how a reader might interpret something.  Then you as the writer can decide if you are comfortable with that interpretation, or if something needs to be changed to avoid misconceptions.

 

It’s also great to get input from people who’ve had different experiences.  As writers, we write what we know, but let’s face it, sometimes we have to use our imagination and a little research to go outside our realm of expertise.  We want the details right, don’t we?  I gave a character bruised ribs, and a person in my writer’s group said, “Hey, I’ve had bruised ribs.  Here’s what it’s really like…”

Not all feedback is created equal.  As the writer, you have to take it or leave it, though you should always listen to it first.  We use the word “objective” to describe the ideal kind of critique, but there really is no such thing.  Each reader, however well-read or accomplished in writing, still has their own tastes in what they like to see.  Sometimes a writer and reader click like brain twins.  Sometimes some serious deliberation is needed.  Sometimes we feel like the feedback is coming out of the blue and misses the mark.  That’s okay.  It’s all part of the process.

 

It’s also important for a writer to know his or her tendencies when accepting feedback.  Critique should be a discussion, not be perceived as a personal attack.  It might even help to figure out how you best receive it.  Maybe you need a sandwich delivery: positive/needs improvement/positive.    Maybe you’d like alternative suggestions, or just have something pointed out and you figure it out later yourself.

Yeah, the writing itself is a solitary activity, but writers themselves are not alone.  There’s a huge community out there waiting to embrace each other.  If you don’t already know about the #MyWANA hastag on Twitter, go to Kristen Lamb’s blog and read about it.  http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/join-the-love-revolution-mywana/  #MyWANA means We Are Not Alone (writers).

Happy writing and critiquing,

~Dreaming wide awake

Character Building– “Any likeness to real people is unintentional” (cough)

I personally think writers portrayed on television get a bad rep.  They make us look like melodramatic fools.  When writers talk about their books/characters, they always name them with something that rhymes with the name of someone they know.

Confession: I have only ever once done the name tweak, and that’s because the story was actually based on fact.  It was a personal story, so it helped to keep the first letters of the names the same rather than severing my connection to it.  But really, should writers be preserving that personal connection when writing fiction?  I also don’t take real people and wrap them up in different clothing to put in a book.  I might take one feature, like a name, occupation, or hobby, but never the entire personality.

Whenever people I work with find out I’m a writer, they worry that I’m going to write a tell-all book about my crazy co-workers.  Yeah, not that kind of writer.

However, I have a few friends who actually want me to put them in a book.  I even had one book brainstormed in which I would put all my friends as characters (in spirit only, not in name rhyming, personality, or bio).  Too bad it’s fizzled out…I’ll have to find a new home for these imaginary doppelgangers.

What about other writers out there?  Do you draw from real people?  Anyone begging to be immortalized in your next work?